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On the Frontline of the Scottish Referendum

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With the referendum vote now less than four weeks away, people across Scotland are looking more closely than ever at the choice we face.

In households and workplaces across the country people are weighing up the arguments and looking at the evidence.

Perhaps nowhere more so than near the Scottish-English border, where the impact of potential separation on jobs, businesses and families is at its most immediate and visceral.

This week I spoke at a town hall meeting in the imposing Minerva Hall at the Academy in Dumfries. The hall was packed, with many people who would never normally attend a political meeting, but understand the importance of the vote on 18 September.

It's clear there is a frustration about the lack of answers from the Nationalists on key questions. Postal votes will start dropping through people's doors in a matter days, and yet the Nationalists still can't tell us about their plans for Scot's pensions or currency in a separate Scotland.

Dumfries and Galloway is a region on the frontline of this referendum debate.

To them, this referendum is a decision that would have fundamental consequences for their daily lives.

Whether it is commuters going south for work, students heading to college or patients attending the Cumberland Infirmary, traveling across the border is second nature to people in this part of Scotland.

A 'Yes' vote on 18th September would make crossing that border much more complicated, with people working for foreign companies in a foreign country with different tax systems and different pension and national insurance arrangements.

3000 Scots cross the border to neighbouring Cumbria to get to work every day, but they don't feel like foreigners in their workplace. And yet that is the proposition facing them in this referendum.

Local companies in the south of Scotland have built up their businesses selling goods and services to the north of England, and many are really worried about the extra expense and added complexity that separation would bring.

The debate about the currency is at its most urgent here too. With Alex Salmond still unable to tell us his plan b, people whose livelihoods depends on seamless trade across the border are fearful about what the future may hold.

Quite simply, the local economy in Dumfries and Galloway depends on trade with the Cumbria, so it makes no sense to me to make life harder for local businesses.

Local families and companies told me they would far rather the Scottish Government's focus was on bringing jobs and opportunities to the region, not spending time and money erecting barriers and creating the apparatus of separate state.

But while the economic consequences of separation is the hot topic, the discussion runs much deeper than the currency in people's pockets.

It's deeply personal. It's about friends, families and neighbours living and working together across the border.

A member of the audience came and spoke to me after my town hall meeting. He said he had never been involved in politics, but so strong were his views about the referendum that he had felt compelled to come along.

Having lived his whole life in Dumfries, he described himself as a proud Scot who passionately loves this country. He felt angered by the inference from some on the 'Yes' side that not wanting to walk away from those just across the border someone how called into question his patriotism.

He talked about how he can have banter with his friends living in Carlisle about the Scots and the English (especially when the topic moves on to football!), but at the end of the day when they sit around the table in the pub what they share in common is so much more important than what divides them.

He doesn't want to walk away from his friends a few miles south.

People living in the north of England share the same challenges and concerns as people in Dumfries and Galloway. His view - and the view of millions of us Scots - is we are better placed to tackle those challenges by working together, not breaking apart.

Indeed, on many issues, this part of Scotland has more in common with just across the border than it does with the central belt.

The Nationalists peddle a misplaced cultural conceit that holds that everyone south of the Solway Firth is an austerity loving Tory. Our friends, family and comrades in Wales, Northern Ireland and in great cities like Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester find no place in this notion.

Before I spoke in Dumfries, I laid a stone at the Friendship Cairn in Gretna, just a few miles from the border. I saw the stones placed by people living on both sides - a physical representation of Scots and the English in these border lands working together as part of the United Kingdom. It shows yet again the strength of emotion on this side of the debate. Here we have friends and neighbours coming together to send a clear message: let's focus on what we can build together rather than what we can tear down.

In the last century, on these small islands, we fought together to defeat fascism, and then worked together to build a welfare state. And today we all rely on the gains we have achieved through a century of pooling and sharing our risks and resources across the UK to fund our health care, to guarantee our pensions, and to tackle poverty and low pay.

But the Nationalists care more about breaking the political union across the UK than preserving the common benefits of the economic and social union.

Their vision is for two countries - Scotland and England - competing against each other with lower taxes, lower terms and conditions and lower wages. A race to the bottom. Ask yourself this question: would that give families across Scotland a better quality of life and a brighter future?

My vision for Scotland is one in which we fight together for the values we are care about: equality, fairness and social justice. Those values are the same whether you live in Dumfries or Carlisle.

Those living in Dumfries and Galloway live and breathe the cultural, familial cross-border collaboration that we should celebrate in modern day Scotland. In an age defined by greater interdependence and connection, narrow nationalism is the wrong path.

Scotland and England may sometimes be rivals, but by geography we are also neighbours. By history, allies. By economics, partners. And by fate and fortune, comrades, friends and family.

That's why tens of thousands of people in Dumfries and Galloway - and millions of us across Scotland - are voting 'no thanks' to walking away from our neighbours across the United Kingdom.

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